7 Steps for a Safer Swim

Stephanie Specht's picture
By Stephanie Specht on June 1, 2016

Drowning is one of the leading causes of injury related deaths among children between the ages of 1 to 4 years old. Every year, about 490 children under the age of 4 drown in pools and spas and thousands more are hospitalized.

However, according to Jill Lucas-Drakeford, a Carilion Clinic community health educator and the coordinator for Safe Kids Southwest Virginia, these deaths can be prevented if you practice pool safety. Take a look at these seven steps for a safer swim.

Step 1: Supervise

Anytime your child is around a pool, spa or any source of water, close supervision is your best protection against drowning. Always stay within arm’s reach of your child, and no matter what kind of pool, lifeguards or not, a designated adult must watch the kids.

If you are at the pool with a group of adults, Lucas-Drakeford suggested sharing the responsibility and taking turns being the water watcher. A water watcher is a designated adult whose singular focus is supervising the children when they are in the water.

When you are the water watcher, do the following:

  • Move your chair near the edge of the pool
  • Do a regular head count
  • Step in if there is too much horsing around
  • Do not make phone calls, respond to texts or chat with friends during your time as the water watcher 

Step 2: Learn CPR

Not all pools have a lifeguard on duty so it essential that you know CPR. It could save your child’s life. In addition, even if emergency medical services (EMS) are on the way, Lucas-Drakeford explained that starting CPR on a child before EMS arrives greatly increases the chance of recovery.

Get certified at your local Red Cross chapter and be sure to take a refresher course every year. In conjunction with knowing CPR, always have a phone nearby and know how to use the pool rescue equipment. 

Step 3: Sign Up for Swim Lessons

Knowing how to swim does not prevent drowning, but enrolling your child in formal swim lessons will greatly decrease her risk. And if you cannot swim, sign yourself up as well.

“Drownings and close calls are eight times more likely to happen to kids,” Lucas-Drakeford said. “And this is also true when a child is being supervised by an adult who can’t swim.”

To find out if your child is ready for swim lessons, talk to your pediatrician or health care provider. Lessons are usually offered at local YMCAs or community pools. Make sure the lessons include water safety skills that are appropriate for your child.

Step 4: Install Safety Drain Covers

State law requires that all public pools and spas have compliant drain covers that prevent suction entrapments. If you have a private pool, check to make sure you have the latest safety drain covers installed. Safety drain covers prevent swimsuit straps, jewelry and hair from getting entangled and are shaped to prevent suction from trapping a person.

“Even though safety drain covers are designed to prevent entanglement or entrapment, teach your child to stay away from drains, as well as other pool equipment such as skimmers, pipe and vacuum lines or any equipment that could pose a danger,” Lucas-Drakeford said.

Step 5: Set Up Alarms

Alarms add another barrier of protection in and around the pool and can alert you to an emergency before it is too late.

“A child can slip into a pool without a sound or a splash, and in less than two minutes underwater can lose consciousness,” Lucas-Drakeford explained.

Alarms should be installed on any doors, windows or gates leading out to the pool area, and surface wave or under water alarms should be placed in the pool. There are even alarms that your child can wear.

Step 6: Install Fencing

A pool fence is an absolute necessity for pool safety. When installed and used correctly, pool fences not only keep your child out of the pool area, but any neighborhood children as well.

The fence should enclose the entire pool and meet the following guidelines:

  • Self-closing and self-latching gates
  • A latch release knob that cannot be reached by children
  • At least 4 feet high, ideally 5 feet
  • Impossible to climb

“If your house serves as the fourth wall of a fence, install door alarms on any entrances leading to the pool area and install an alarm in the pool itself,” Lucas-Drakeford added.

Step 7: Secure

Pool and Spa Covers Deterrents such as covers are essential to keep children out of the pool when you are not around. Make sure they are properly installed and keep them in good working order all year long.

“Install a cover that has been tested to meet industry safety standards and is strong enough to hold a child or children,” Lucas-Drakeford noted. “But, make sure you also teach your child to stay away from all pool covers.”

If you have a spa, always keep it covered and locked. And inflatable pools are no exception. Their flexible and low sides make it easy for children to climb into them. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of 12 children under age 10 die in inflatable pools each year. And don’t forget about ladders on above ground pools; remove them when the pool is not in use.

By following all seven pool safety tips, you will ensure that the entire family has a fun and safe summer.